How to Win a Spot on the PPC Podium in the Olympics of Search

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Originally published in Marketing Profs, June 7, 2016

052412_medals_lgRight now, as you read this, athletes all over the world are working hard and persisting through pain to prepare themselves to represent their country and find personal glory in the 2016 Olympics.

Yet, let’s be honest: Except for their families and a few close friends, unless the athletes end up on the podium in one of those top three spots with medals hanging around their necks, all that effort and sacrifice will have gone mostly unnoticed. No one remembers who came in 16th, 8th, or even 5th.

Digital marketers are now facing a similar situation because of recently announced changes to Google’s search engine results page (SERP) layout. Google is adding one more paid search result at the top, bringing the total to a maximum of four, while eliminating the ad positions on the side of the page. The new SERP layout also will have three ads at the bottom—although, truthfully, those are much less valuable.

The net effect is that there will be 30% less advertising opportunity on the page—from a maximum of 11 spots to a maximum of 7—which makes winning one of those four places on top about as important (and difficult) as placing in the Olympics.

These changes also have another effect: They continue Google’s concentration on larger advertisers with significant budgets and therefore in the best position to bid on those coveted positions. Small and midsize businesses will be less likely to be able to compete for those top spots.

But if you are one of the fortunate few who can compete, you can do a few things to improve your chances of medaling in the pay-per-click (PPC) and click-through-rate (CTR) events.

Be strategic with your ads and messaging

Google uses various criteria to determine who gets those top spots. You can help your cause (and produce better results) if you make effective use of manual AdWords ad extensions, such as apps, calls, and locations. There are seven manual extensions in all—including structured snippets—that can be used to carry a variety of messages to your audiences and encourage immediate action.

With so much to choose from, however, you must be careful to eliminate redundancies, especially if multiple people are working on your AdWords campaign. You want to maximize that real estate by presenting as many options to customers as possible.

That’s why it pays to have someone do an ad audit that shows you what consumers are seeing on the SERP. You can then use that information to make adjustments.

Athletes are constantly tweaking their mechanics and mental game to ensure the best performance when everything is on the line. You should do the same. The more you stand out in this new format, the better the ROI will be for your business.

Get more specific with targeting

You always want to play to your strengths. Sprinters usually don’t fare well in distance runs, and shot putters generally don’t make good decathletes.

Google AdWords continues to evolve, making it easier for you to reach highly qualified audiences. Last year Google rolled out Customer Match, which gives advertisers greater control over which customers to include and exclude for seeing their ads. As long as you have an email address, you can use Customer Match to serve up the right ad based on where customers are in the buying cycle (provided they are signed in to their Google account). It’s very effective at pulling customers through the sales cycle, and gets better the more data you have on your customers.

Another great option is Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSA). This Google feature makes it easy to tailor your search ads and campaigns for people who already have visited your website, whether or not they made a purchase. If they had enough interest to click to your site once, they are likely to click again—if you show them the right message. You can use RLSA to capture one of those tops spots based on previous history.

Other targeting features enable you to use Google AdWords to tailor ads and campaigns based on factors such as income and geography. The more you slice and dice your audience, the better opportunity you will have to move your customers and prospects to action.

Take advantage of shopping improvements

Smart retailers can use shopping campaigns and Product Listing Ads (PLAs) to gain additional advantages.

Now that the side ads are gone, those top four spots will stand out even more since there will be fewer distractions. If, typically, you’ve been in one of the top spots, it’s likely you will see a lift in traffic now—good reason to continue to appear in that area. For those who aren’t in one of those top four spots, shopping ads are a good way to stand out if/when customers scroll to the bottom of the page.

Either way, you have to get smarter and stay smarter about how and when your ads appear. Just keep in mind that with a 30% reduction in ads on the page, the competition is likely to get fierce. The best thing you can do is hone your skills on feed optimization, negative keyword fencing, and other techniques that will help you ensure the right ads are being served to the right customers at the right times.

Consider other channels

Clearly, Google is the Olympics of search; if you can capture one of the coveted spots, it can do wonders for your business.

But what if you can’t? Small and midsize businesses will have more and more trouble competing as time goes on, and even larger organizations may struggle. So it may be worthwhile to consider other channels, such as Bing or Yahoo, which can still yield excellent results.

By testing on multiple platforms you can determine whether you need to keep all of your investment on Google, or whether perhaps you can branch out to others where you can gain a more dominant position.

You also may want to consider alternatives such as Twitter, Facebook ,and YouTube, which also have high traffic. Although those were once considered second-tier, many advertisers are now finding them effective. Look at it this way: YouTube is the second-largest search engine, with more searches than Bing, Yahoo, Ask, and AOL combined. Why not take advantage of it?

Bring home the gold

Unless an Olympic competitor is Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards, the athletes who get the bulk of the attention and glory will be the ones who make it to the podium.

With the changes to Google SERP, it’s time to rethink bidding strategies to make sure you take one of those top four spots. You may not make it onto a Wheaties box, but you’ll definitely improve your chances of bolstering your bottom line.

Five Ways Google Analytics Turns You Into the Sherlock of Paid Search

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Originally published in Marketing Profs, June 19, 2015

Sherlock-Holmes-photoOne of the most enduring characters in popular culture is Sherlock Holmes. Between the original books, 1930s movies, the recent blockbusters, the hit TV show, and thousands of other references, everyone is probably at least passingly familiar with the great English detective.

What makes Holmes so fascinating to us (and valuable to Scotland Yard) is his ability to quickly scan a crime scene, see beyond the obvious and, through his famous deductive reasoning, discover the truth of what really occurred.

Wouldn’t it be great to have your own Sherlock Holmes at your disposal, ready to be called upon at a moment’s notice to help you solve your own mysteries regarding the performance of your search advertising?

Actually, there is.

Only instead of a genius in a checked cap with a curved pipe, analytics applications help you dig deeper into Web visitor behaviors to gain a better understanding of whether your paid search/digital marketing efforts are bringing the right prospects to your site.

The Analytics Solution

To understand the contribution analytics applications can make, first distinguish between the information you get from Google AdWords and what analytics packages add to the mix.

Google AdWords does a great job of quantifying the basic performance of your digital marketing program. You can see performance indicators such as conversion rates, opens, clicks, impressions, etc., all of which are valuable metrics. They show you how effective your digital marketing efforts are in driving traffic to your website or landing pages.

What Google AdWords doesn’t show, however, is what happens after those visitors arrive. It essentially leaves them at your doorstop.

That’s where an analytics package adds value. It takes that next step, allowing you to track visitor behaviors throughout their visit, providing more clues to how well your paid search campaigns are working.

While myriad quality analytics applications are available to digital marketers, my personal preference is Google Analytics. For one thing, it’s free, whereas you have to pay for the others.

More importantly, Google Analytics is already tightly integrated with Google AdWords, giving you a broad and deep view into the performance of your digital marketing campaigns. Other packages will require some work to gain the same, comprehensive view.

Finally, Google is perceived as the undisputed market leader in search engine marketing (SEM). When you are presenting an analysis of your campaign’s performance to management, having the Google brand behind it gives instant credibility.

The 100% Solution

At this point, you may be wondering what value tracking visitor behavior on your website brings. With Google Analytics, you can go beyond seeing how many people you’re attracting with your digital marketing to understanding whether they are prospective buyers—people who have a need for what you’re selling, either now or in the future.

Some of the valuable metrics Google Analytics provides are…

  • Bounce rate
    This metric tells you how many visitors hit your landing page and then left without going anywhere else. A high bounce rate is a likely indicator that you’re either attracting the wrong people initially or there is a problem with the messaging on your landing page. If your landing page isn’t leading visitors somewhere else, you’ll know you should either change it or spend the money elsewhere.
  • Average session duration
    How much time someone spends on your site is another good indicator of the effectiveness of your campaign—especially if what you’re selling is more complex or a considered purchase. Higher average session durations usually indicate you are attracting the right visitors and they are becoming engaged with your content.
  • Number of pages visited per session
    This is another good measure of how engaged visitors become with your content or your company. For example, suppose visitors click on a product ad and are taken to its landing page. Once there, they begin looking around at what else you have to offer. Those are high-value prospects worth pursuing heavily.
  • Individual page performance
    You can use Google Analytics to track conversion events, such as the number of times visitors download a whitepaper or click a button to go to a third-party partner’s site. It helps you put a dollar value on each page that shows which ones you should be leading visitors to most and which ones are under-performing to the point you should eliminate them.
  • Cross-platform performance
    This is a relatively new but important metric, especially for those involved in omnichannel marketing. With Google’s Universal Analytics, you’ll be able to measure performance across devices —e.g., you’ll have insight into users who start their search on a smartphone or tablet, then move to a PC. This capability will provide a more accurate measure of total campaign performance—especially in the critical conversion phase —providing rich, robust data that can inform future keyword purchases. You can avoid the trap of last-click attribution instead allowing you to see how well your entire digital marketing effort is performing.

The goal is to get visitors engaged with your website. Taking that next step from using Google AdWords to implementing Google Analytics can show you which campaigns are most effective in generating real leads that move visitors to conversion.

In other words, you discover the campaigns that turn browsers into buyers.

Analytics also help you improve your branding campaigns, showing you which words and approaches you should be using based on their production—all the way down to the page level.

Once you understand what is working at this deeper level, you can make more-informed decisions about your budgets, bids, landing pages, ad copy, and other program elements, investing more in the ones that are working and cutting back or removing entirely those that aren’t sticky—even if they’re driving traffic.

Finally, analytics will help ensure you’re relying on data rather than instinct—just as Holmes would do.

Uncovering the Mysteries

That’s a lot of upside, especially for something free. But you may be wondering about any downside.

Just one: So much information can be uncovered that it takes study to learn how to use it effectively. In fact, it can be overwhelming.

One of the biggest issues is that organizations try to take in too much rather than setting up dashboards for the metrics they determine are important to their business. However, if you understand exactly which key performance indicators are the ones that drive what you’re trying to accomplish, doing so can be extremely valuable.

Fortunately, there are great tutorials, such as these on the Google Analytics site itself, which help elaborate what Google Analytics does, why you need it, and how to implement it correctly.

Taking the time to review the tutorials up-front can help you avoid red herrings and dead ends in the long run.

A Case of Identity

As valuable as Google AdWords can be to paid-search campaigns, it only covers visitors up to the doorstep. Once they’ve crossed the digital threshold, it’s anyone’s guess what they do.

A package such as Google Analytics solves that mystery, helping you trace your visitors’ steps throughout your website to determine not only how well your digital marketing campaign is working in driving the right traffic to your site but also how well your site is working to turn curious people into interested prospects, and those prospects into customers.

True Interactive Will Contribute to The Social Media Monthly in 2015

Digital marketing experts from True Interactive will contribute
opinion and “how to” articles to leading social media publication

CHICAGO (March 24, 2015)True Interactive, a digital marketing agency that delivers search engine marketing (SEM), search engine optimization (SEO), display, social media and mobile services, announced today that its principals Kurt Anagnostopoulos and Mark Smith will become regular contributors to The Social Media Monthly, a recognized leader online and in print covering social media and other marketing-related topics.

True Interactive’s Anagnostopoulos and Smith contributed columns earlier this year, and the relationship will be formalized to regular postings during the second quarter of 2015. In the last 12 months, the duo also has contributed to other leading industry publications such as MarketingProfs, CommPRO.biz and eM+C, along with the specialty site Retail Online Integration.

“Kurt and Mark have demonstrated their strategic insight and practical knowledge in the field of digital marketing, particularly in the realm of paid search,” said Bob Fine, founder of the Washington D.C.-based technology group Social Media Insider, which publishes The Social Media Monthly and The Startup Monthly. Fine also serves as editor of both publications.

“We’re pleased and honored to welcome True Interactive to the ranks of our regular contributors,” Fine said.

After launching from “pie-in-the-sky idea to print in just 53 days,” The Social Media Monthly was named “One of the Fifteen Hottest Magazine Launches of 2011” by min, the front-running publication of the magazine trade.

Read recent posts by True Interactive authors on The Social Media Monthly at:

About True Interactive

True Interactive is a digital marketing agency that delivers search engine marketing (SEM), search engine optimization (SEO), display, social media and mobile services. The firm’s core values are transparency in execution, accountability for results and collaboration with clients. Visit trueinteractiv.wpengine.com to learn more.